The Cabinet of Curiosities
Reviewed: September 20, 2006
By: Douglas Preston and Lincoln
Publisher: Warner Books
640 pages, $10.99
The team of Douglas Preston and Lincoln
Child have delivered several books of what we might call the “Indiana Jones
meets Sherlock Holmes meets the X-files” variety, in which ancient artifacts
turn out to be the key element in a modern day horror story which is solved
with a certain forensic clarity after many bloody events.
These haven’t all featured exactly
the same cast of characters, but some of the people in The Cabinet of Curiosities
have been in various of the other books, so we’re beginning to see a sort
of loose-knit group forming.
Central to this story is FBI Special
Agent Pendergast, whose first name we do not know. He turned up in both The
Relic and The Reliquary as an important secondary character, but
here he is front and center. We learn a lot about his dark past, his darker
relatives and his peculiar investigative methods. When it comes to investigating
the bizarre, he makes Fox Muldar look like a skeptic.
Also present is New York Times reporter
William Smithback Jr., whose nose for a story inevitably gets him into trouble.
He’s like a cross between Jimmy Olsen and something out of the movie, “The
Archaeologist Nora Kelly met Smithback
in a novel called Thunderhead, and now works at the New York Museum
of Natural History, which is where Relic and its sequel took place.
This time, however, the monster is
not in the museum. This time the monster seems to be a serial killer who is
after some very specific body parts for some mysterious reason.
The story begins with a murder, but
kicks up a notch when the excavation for a lavish new apartment tower opens
up a century old charnel house where the victims seem to have been mutilated
in the same manner as the killer’s victims.
Pendergast has a sinking feeling that
he knows what might be going on and enlists Nora, in her capacity as a forensic
anthropologist, to examine the remains. They are blocked by the powerful businessman
whose project it is, and who is also an influential backer at the museum.
As a subplot, the museum has fallen
into the hand of the money managers, who see scientific inquiry as a poor
relation of entertainment and money making potential of the building and its
In this the men and women in the suits
are not remarkably different from the early purveyors of public spectacle,
the “Ripley’s Believe it or Not” kind of collectors who, a century earlier,
had run Cabinets of Curiosities to line their pockets and fleece the poor.
One of these had been above the site of the excavation and turns out to have
played a role in those murders.
After a time it appears that the murderer
may be trying to accumulate certain bodily fluids in an attempt to create
a life and health prolonging elixir. This ties into Pendergast’s family history
in ways which will become clear as the story progresses.
Because there are several people pursuing
different lines of inquiry on this case, including the totally befuddled official
authorities, who seem to be in the book for comic relief, there is lots of
potential for cliffhangers and drama as we follow one investigation to a crucial
point and then veer off to another. The authors are very good at keeping the
tension in the air and keeping us readers on the edges of our easy chairs.
I wasn’t aware when I got this book
that the authors have definitely embarked on connected series now, with Pendergast
at its core. I am reminded more than a little of the old pulp magazine adventures
of characters like Doc Savage and the Shadow, updated and expanded to novel
length for new century.
It’s good stuff, and I’m definitely
going to read some more of it.